Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday which marks the start of Lent which is the period of 40 days leading up to Easter and the remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross and the celebration of his resurrection. The word ‘shrove’ comes from the old practice of being ‘shriven’ – meaning to confess one’s sins and receive absolution from a priest. The shriving bell would be rung on Shrove Tuesday to call people to church to confess. Lent is a period of penitence and abstinence from eating rich foods. This is why people in many countries have traditions of eating up rich foods on Shrove Tuesday. Here we eat pancakes to use up milk, butter and flour and perhaps other luxury ingredients, in Venice they eat little doughnuts called fritole, in Estonia hernesupp a mix of yellow split peas, and pork is eaten, in Rio de Janeiro they eat feijoada a black bean stew with pork and beef. Eating of meat and dairy was forbidden during lent. Today some Christians give up a particular food they enjoy for lent as a form of discipline.
In some countries they still celebrate shrove Tuesday and the period leading up to it with carnival which was traditionally a kind of letting your hair down before the austerity of Lent. The word carnival comes from Carne Vale meaning to remove meat. Notting Hill in London hosts a carnival but it is divorced from shrove Tuesday tradition and takes place in September.
Normally in the City of London and in some villages and towns on Shrove Tuesday there is a pancake race. Dating from around 1445, legend has it that a local woman heard the shriving bell while she was making pancakes and ran to church in her apron, still clutching her frying pan.